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The NCAA men's basketball tournament is averaging a combined 5.5 U.S. rating and 8.4 million viewers through the first three rounds across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, which is up 15% and 14%, respectively, from a 4.8 rating and 7.4 million viewers at the same point last year on CBS. Coverage of the third round on Sunday averaged a combined 6.6 rating, which is tied with '05 as the highest-rated first Sunday of the tournament since a 7.2 rating in '00. This year's first Sunday rating is also up 16% from a 5.7 rating on CBS last year. MMOD is also seeing a 47% increase in total visits this year across broadband and mobile products through Sunday. In total, there were 26.7 million visits across the NCAA online and mobile platforms from the start if the First Four on March 15 through the end of the third round on Sunday. The first three rounds of the tournament also totaled 10.3 million total hours of live streaming video. MMOD also was the No. 1 app for both iPhone and iPad last Thursday and Friday. Thirty-six percent of all MMOD video streams on Saturday and Sunday were from iPad and iPhone apps (THE DAILY). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Marisa Guthrie wrote the tournament "will likely push CBS to a primetime ratings win for Sunday" in final ratings. The net averaged a 2.5 overnight among adults 18-49 from 7:00-11:00pm ET, with the Ohio State-George Mason game "sliding CBS primetime by 19 minutes" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 3/21).
INSIDE THE RATINGS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes the "highest-rated games so far ... included brand names." However, the "formula isn't foolproof," as Friday's Duke-Hampton and Notre Dame-Akron games earned 0.7 overnight ratings, "the lowest rating so far except for" truTV's 0.4 rating for Friday's Marquette-Xavier game. Hiestand notes the "15 lowest-rated games were all on Turner's cable channels" (USA TODAY, 3/22). DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell wrote the four networks "got off to a strong start collectively." However, viewership for "individual games didn't look all that impressive." Ratings for CBS alone are "not surprisingly … down sharply from last year," including more than 40% in primetime on Thursday, despite the fact that audiences "still appear to see CBS as the primary destination for games" (VARIETY.com, 3/21). But CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said of the ratings, "We made certain assumptions with advertisers, and we've either met or exceeded all those assumptions. The first year is often a benchmark and a critical year for a long-term deal, and that bodes well" (AP, 3/21).
EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIP: YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase in a review of the first weekend of tournament coverage awarded a "swish" to the new four-network format. Chase: "This was the best innovation the tournament has made in decades" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). LINDY'S SPORTS' Shawn O'Neal wrote the CBS-Turner coverage is "perhaps the best sports coverage package in the considerable history of American television." CBS and Turner "managed to do what few thought possible by fixing what wasn't broken." O'Neal: "As good as the games were ... the TV coverage was even better" (LINDYSSPORTS.com, 3/21). In Minnesota, Frank Rajkowski writes the CBS-Turner coverage "has been excellent." Rajkowski: "I didn't know how I'd feel about bringing the additional channels aboard. ... But really, it's been like getting a free subscription to the NFL Sunday Ticket." In a broadcast world "where it's too often Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and a few others all the time, it's nice to have the freedom to watch an entire Virginia Commonwealth game if one so chooses" (ST. CLOUD TIMES, 3/22). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "When they put all of the games out there, full, on all four of these networks, this is a delight. You can see everything you want to see” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/21). SportsNet N.Y.'s Adam Schein: “I love the new TV format for the NCAA tournament. Four channels, you get every game, you act as a producer” (“Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 3/21).
MORE TIME FOR STUDIO SHOWS: On Long Island, Neil Best notes fans have "applauded the ability to watch every game in its entirety." But the format "also has hugely increased the time studio analysts have to express themselves." The "network culture clash can be jarring, as when CBS' Greg Anthony stuck to sober analysis while seated next to TNT's raucous NBA frat house of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson." But Best writes, "Mostly the studio segments have been a welcome sideshow to the NCAA circus, even if things have gotten a little confusing at times. ... The star as usual was Barkley" (NEWSDAY, 3/22). But YAHOO SPORTS' Chase awarded an "airball" to both Smith and Barkley, who were a "picture of apathy all weekend." Meanwhile, Chase awarded a "swish" to the broadcast team of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr, who "made a seamless transition from the pros to college" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21).
BEST OF THE REST: In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wrote CBS analyst Bill Raftery was "great" this weekend, as he "always is." CBS "had the chance to move him into the top chair, next to Jim Nantz, when they forced out Billy Packer, and they blew it." Samuelsen: "I like Clark Kellogg. He does a great job. But nobody is better than Raft." Meanwhile, Samuelsen wrote studio host Greg Gumbel "did a good job, given that he had to try to keep Kenny Smith engaged and Charles Barkley awake." Barkley "should at least try to fake that he cares while the red light is on" (FREEP.com, 3/21). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes whoever brought Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino "into CBS' NCAA hoops studio over the weekend made a good decision." Pitino "stole the show," and he "spread sunshine and goodwill in the officials' direction in front of a huge national TV audience" while discussing several controversial calls Sunday. Raissman: "It can't hurt, right? And it certainly helps his cause more than if he ripped them on CBS. Very slick" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/22).
LATE TIP-OFFS: In DC, Tracee Hamilton wrote her "one quibble with the tournament, a tiny problem easily corrected next year," is for the nets to "adjust those Sunday start times." CBS "for much of the day Sunday ... was the only game in town." It then "bowed out in favor of its prime-time lineup ... and the damage was done," as the games were "so staggered and so many started late that we had basketball going on well past midnight Sunday night." Hamilton: "I don't mind that Thursday's and Friday's schedule runs from noon till past midnight; that’s part of the glory of those first two days, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Saturday can run late, too. But the final day of the weekend action should be structured so that the last game ends no later than 9:50 p.m., rather than starting at that time" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/21). SportsNet N.Y.'s Chris Carlin said, "I don't need five games in prime time on Sunday night. I want to be done with my college basketball by eight o’clock on Sunday” ("Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 3/21).
The Pac-10, which is "deep into its talks with ESPN and Fox, is seeking the richest media contract among all college conferences," according to sources cited by Ourand & Smith of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The conference is expanding to 12 schools next season with the addition of Colorado and Utah and has been in "exclusive negotiating windows with both networks." Sources indicated that the Pac-10 "has told the media companies that it wants considerably more than the $205 million per year that the SEC got combined from CBS and ESPN for an all-in package." The league currently receives about $54M annually in media rights fees from ESPN and Fox, the "lowest of the six major conferences." The Pac-10 "allowed its exclusive negotiating window with ESPN to lapse earlier this month," and also is "expected to let its exclusive negotiating window with Fox lapse without a deal at the end of the month." The conference then would "go to an open market in April with a comprehensive package of rights to sell, which would include football and basketball, online and full marketing rights." Sources noted that "during its negotiation with ESPN, the Pac-10 was seeking to get more than four times the $25 million the network currently is paying for its package of football games" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/21 issue).
The Buccaneers are the "leading candidate to be the next team featured" on HBO's "Hard Knocks" series this summer, according to two sources cited by Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com. The sources said that the Buccaneers, HBO and officials from NFL Films, which produces the series, "have had talks about this season's version." However, "no deal has been finalized and players are currently locked out in a labor dispute." A league source indicated that the Saints, Raiders and "four other teams also are in consideration for the show." An official decision "is not expected until later in the spring." Yasinskas noted the Bucs are "seeking attention after a surprising 10-6 year, and hoping to sell tickets after a season in which they did not sell out for a single game" (ESPN.com, 3/21). Buccaneers co-Chair Joel Glazer yesterday said, "We're listening. I don't know if we would do it or not. I think we have a good story to tell based on a lot of the characters and on [coach Raheem Morris]. I think people could get a closer look at us." Glazer added, "There are a lot of pros and cons. I think it would be fun as long as you knew what you were getting into" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/22).
COME & KNOCK ON MY DOOR? In New Orleans, Mike Triplett reported the Saints yesterday "quickly refuted an ESPN report that they are one of a handful of teams being considered" for this year's edition of "Hard Knocks." Saints VP/Communications Greg Bensel said that the team "gets approached every year but that they 'politely decline' every time" (NOLA.com, 3/21). ESPN.com's Bill Williamson wrote it "would be intriguing to see the HBO cameras work the Raiders’ training camp in Napa, Calif." With Owner Al Davis, "energetic coach Hue Jackson and a young, interesting roster, the Raiders would be compelling television." But the team is "notoriously private, and the training-camp setting in Napa is very controlled" (ESPN.com, 3/21).
Versus has expanded its broadcast window for IndyCar races "from three hours to five continuous hours to include live broadcasts of eight Firestone Indy Lights races,” and in total the net will “air more than 140 hours of coverage” throughout the IndyCar season, according to Dave Lewandowski of SPEEDTV.com. Versus has also added “Inside the Izod IndyCar Series” -- a weekly studio show that will premiere May 3 and air at 4:00pm ET with re-airs during the week. Izod IndyCar Series race “encores will air Mondays, while the network will provide more than 17 hours of qualifications coverage leading up to the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.” Wally Dallenbach Jr. will join Bob Jenkins and Jon Beekhuis in Versus' broadcast booth for the series this year, replacing Robbie Buhl. Marty Snider, Lindy Thackston and Kevin Lee will serve as pit reporters, with Speed TV's Robin Miller joining the network's pre-race show and serving as an "in-race reporter for select telecasts” (SPEEDTV.com, 3/21). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Tripp Mickle notes Versus' "expanded coverage comes on the heels of the Comcast acquisition of NBC and offers the first indication of how the network’s new management team, composed of longtime NBC executive Jon Miller and longtime Comcast executive Jon Litner, view IndyCar." Former NBC NASCAR Director Mike Wells "will direct the IndyCar coverage on Versus" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/21 issue).
The PGA Tour is averaging a 1.9 rating and 2.851 million viewers for its weekend telecasts on CBS and NBC through 14 windows, up 26.6% and 36.3%, respectively, from a 1.5 rating and 2.092 million viewers through the same point last year (12 telecasts) (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). Golf Magazine Senior Editor Mike Walker noted much of the ratings increase is due to Tiger Woods' return, since he "was on sabbatical for this part of the schedule last year." But Woods has played in just three tournaments this year -- making the weekend in just two -- and Walker wondered if golf has been "more exciting this year, or is the increase just a strange quirk (bad winter in the Northeast, weaker competition from other sports, etc.)?" Golf.com's David Dusek wrote if Woods and Phil Mickelson "can turn their games around, ratings could really jump." But SI's Michael Bamberger wrote he does not think "there's much Tiger effect at all." Bamberger: "The rating's are up because the golf's been so good, close to the end, with the contenders showing all sorts of range in terms of age and background and nationality and golfing style." SI's Damon Hack wrote he thinks the increase "speaks to Tiger's return, a bad winter and HDTV." Hack added the NBC-Golf Channel "synergy has probably helped ratings." Meanwhile, SI's Jim Gorant wrote the networks "like to shout about the increases, but when you look at the percentage increase and then calculate how many more viewers that actually translates to, you realize it's not that big of a difference." Gorant: "That means many small things can contribute, who's playing, how close it is, rain in some part of the country, start times, what else is on, etc." (GOLF.com, 3/20).
TOP TALKERS: GOLF WORLD MONDAY's Geoff Russell wrote Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee is one "personality who could improve" NBC's golf coverage. Chamblee since joining Golf Channel after losing his PGA Tour card in '03, has "demonstrated himself to be knowledgeable about the professional game, refreshingly outspoken and relatively unconcerned about who he might offend." Chamblee "has spent most of his career commenting from Golf Channel's studios in Orlando," and the "next step is to see if he can do the same compelling work ... as a member of NBC's tournament team" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 3/21 issue). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones noted NBC analyst Johnny Miller Sunday during the final round of the PGA Tour Transitions Championship showed "why there might not be a better sports analyst on television." Miller questioned runner-up Webb Simpson's club choice on the final hole before he "drove his tee shot in to the bunker and ended up with a bogey" to give Gary Woodland the win. Jones: "Miller called it before he had seen it. It doesn't get any better than that, folks. ... Anyone can tell viewers what just happened. The best in the business, however, can tell us why it happened, and, better yet, what is about to happen" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/21).
The Mountain West Conference has "pledged its 'reasonable efforts' to help the University of Hawaii preserve its lucrative pay-per-view television package and at least $2.3 million in annual income” when the school joins the conference in football in '12, according to Ferd Lewis of the HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER. A contract signed by MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson and UH President M.R.C. Greenwood this month said the conference will attempt to "negotiate a local area 'carve-out' for UH with its national television broadcast contract." The conference additionally will use "its reasonable effort -- but shall not be obligated" -- to secure the $2.3M the school receives under a contract with Oceanic Time Warner Cable for its PPV deal that is scheduled to run through ’14. UH has operated a PPV package since ’02. Part of UH's agreement to join the MWC in ‘12 specifies that the university will assign "all local, regional, national and international broadcast rights" to the conference. The MWC has contracts with CBS College Sports and Comcast signed through ‘15-16 worth about $12M a year. UH's agreement with the MWC says the $2.3M payment from the conference "may come from all television sources." The contract also states UH will not be "entitled to share in other national TV contract revenue until such time as all other MWC institutions have received at least $2.3 million in TV revenue from football for that academic year” (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 3/20).